The plight of Japan’s animators, long famed for being paid slave wages, has been making headlines again with the news that Studio Easter, the makers of Case Closed, are being sued for allegedly paying their animators as little as $3 an hour.
The revelations arise from a lawsuit being brought against Studio Easter by 3 of the animators it employed making Case Closed, demanding ¥27,000,000 in compensation for unpaid overtime, illegally low wages, “power harassment,” forced retirement and a catalogue of other labour law violations.
Training wages as low as ¥250 an hour
“I worked until late each day, my health was ruined and I can’t lead a normal life.”
This is the complaint of a 24-year-old animator who entered the company March last year. Of Taiwanese extraction, he came to love Japanese anime and came to Japan when he was 18. After graduating from a Japanese language school, he worked with colour design at Studio Easter.
At the time he thought it was the culmination of a long-held dream, but it soon turned into a nightmare.
After entering the company as a trainee, he found himself paid an hourly wage of ¥250 (¥2000 a day), far below the Tokyo minimum wage of ¥821 an hour.
As he could not live on such a wage, he was forced to subsist on payments from his parents.
After finishing his training, he found himself on a base wage of 150,000 a month. He did receive one day off each week, although he was “sometimes called in to work” even then. He never received payment for overtime or work on his holidays.
His superiors were unsympathetic: “This is a matter of course in the anime industry. If we obeyed labour laws there would be no company and no anime industry.”
Other claims made in the suit include being awarded a ¥40,000 pay cut after suffering injuries caused by scanning 1,000 sheets of production material a day and being harassed into quitting for giving a subordinate a paid vacation.
Although the allegations could probably be made by most Japanese against their employers (compulsory unpaid overtime, “service zangyou,” is regarded as one of the reasons Japanese workers are actually some of the most overworked and least productive in the developed world), the treatment meted out to animators appears to be exceptionally poor even by Japanese standards.
Online there is a very mixed reaction, ranging from denouncing the litigants for not displaying the servile obedience expected of true Japanese spirit, to outrage at the exploitative business practices of the studios, and of course some concern about how the industry would sustain itself if it had to pay minimum wages to the relatively unskilled drudges it depends on:
“You’ll get more on benefits!”
“Try another line of work!”
“It’s your fault for joining a company like that. If you don’t like it, quit!”
“Smash these outrageous companies!”
“Destroy anime culture! How can an industry like this have survived?”
“As much as ¥250!? Wages in the anime business sure have risen a lot recently. Just after the bubble burst it was like ¥50-¥150.”
“¥250 is a China level wage! You’d get 800-1000 just working part-time in a convenience store.”
“Case Closed was not exactly a flagship for good quality animation, was it?”
“It’s amazing people still want to work as animators really. You’d think the industry’d either run out of employees or have to put up the wages.”
“They just lie about working conditions all the time. There are even shows on TV pushing it as a good job. Trick the kids into wanting to become animators, that’s how the industry sustains itself.”
“If you improve conditions for the production slaves, the number of anime produced must decrease. I don’t want to be stuck watching anime which aren’t just to my taste, so please keep working, slaves!”
“I don’t think that would be too bad, the working conditions seem to be dragging the quality down.”
“Well, as they get the young ones who can’t stand it to quit, the only ones who get to the top are the ones who survive it.”
“I thought they would have been paid per cell, not per day, to be honest.”
“They are just burning out young animators and then discarding them. Despicable.”
“One of Japan’s flagship industries – look at it. No signs of improvement, they’ll ruin themselves keeping on like this.”
“They will be crushed soon enough? Foreigners aren’t like Japanese, they won’t ‘gaman’ this out. With the industry increasingly dependent on foreign animators it’s hard to see them continuing like this. I think it would be better if they got hit with more lawsuits like this.”
“His superior was right – if the anime industry obeyed labour laws, there would be no industry! Don’t like it? Quit!
¥150,000 was quite good pay, if you don’t like it, go back to China! The companies in China they subcontract out to have even worse conditions!
They probably knew this, and sued them on purpose. Money grubbers, keep out of the anime industry!”
“They should be made to pay up, this is just a violation of the law.”
“You guys could just stop buying discs and hand it over to the animators directly, I suppose?”
“When I worked as animator, the average monthly salary was ¥90,000 and I got ¥1,100,000 annually. It cost ¥80,000 just to live month to month, and there were national insurance payments and so on on top of that. You could only survive in that industry if you loved your work.”
“Do something about this! This is one of the cultures which represents Japan! The state is too incompetent…”
“Japan, renowned throughout the world for the unique anime culture it boasts – what a shame it’s all based on horrendous working conditions. Can nothing be done?”